We continue a series of Rutgers football positional previews, published every few days. Next up is the team’s wide receivers, a group that has underachieved badly the last two years. For last year’s preview, click here.
Position coach: Lester Erb (3rd season overall, 2nd with Wide Receivers)
Key players lost: Zihir Lacewell (transfer)
Key players returning: Bo Melton (Jr.), Everett Wormley (Jr.), Hunter Hayek (Jr.), Mo Jabbie (RJr.), Shameen Jones (RSo.), Tyler Hayek (RSo.), Eddie Lewis (So.), Daevon Robinson (So.), Jalen Jordan (RFr.), Paul Woods (RFr.)
Newcomers: Stanley King (Fr.), Isaiah Washington (Fr.), Monterio Hunt (Jr.)
Question 1: Can they get open?
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result. Prior to the last two seasons I wrote, “there is nowhere to go but up.” I may have been wrong, but if I wrote that a third time, does that make me insane?
Everyone you talk to has a different opinion as to whether the coaches, quarterbacks, receivers, or offensive line was the most to blame for last year’s struggles. I do think its a mix. Let’s start with the elephant in the receiver room, can this group get enough “separation” from defenders?
After painstakingly re-watching a lot of last year’s film primarily against teams with roughly equal talent like Indiana, Maryland, and Illinois particularly, I feel a little better about my previous conclusions. The bottom line is that Rutgers receivers for the most part were open at the point of their break, so an on-time ball thrown accurately would have resulted in a reception if the wideout could hold onto the ball. The two issues there are 1. The routes were not always perfect (often due to an inability to defeat press coverage) so Art Sitkowski’s timing was compromised and often when he did make a good throw 2. the ball was dropped.
On the route running, that will surely be better in the same system for a second year especially as these guys get stronger to more quickly get off the initial jam. The drops though have to stop. Last year often fans were clamoring for Mo Jabbie since he has reliable hands and Daevon Robinson at tight end seemed reliable in limited action. Bo Melton’s problem was not drops as often as Shameen Jones or Eddie Lewis, but if they drop even two balls on game day, expect a substitution with so many other players in reserve. Paul Woods is someone who hasn't gotten a shot on game day yet.
Question 2: Can they deliver some big plays?
The last two years combined, Rutgers wide receivers combined for three receving touchdowns ... total. Two of those came in the 2017 opener against Washington, so in the last 23 games, the group has had ONE score (Shameen Jones versus Indiana). That is absolutely pathetic. This is to a level that if I were John McNulty I would have selected three of the scholarship players and had them utilized ONLY close to the end zone in a red zone package with no other responsibilites; Everett Wormley, Mo Jabbie, and one of the tall guys like Tyler Hayek or Jalen Jordan. The moral of the story here is that there's nothing else to say, we just need to see it on Saturdays.
Touchdowns aren’t the only big plays of course, securing first downs and chunk plays are also critical. Rutgers had their tight ends as the go to option on third downs, but Jerome Washington and Travis Vokolek are gone so that is no longer on the table. I’d like to see some slot receivers schemed open a little more rather than relying on Hunter Hayek and Eddie Lewis to get a step and have to make a play to reach the sticks on a check down. For chunk plays, Melton has the potential especially if defenses can’t key on him. This is where Daevon Robinson is the guy the team trusts mosts if they want to throw a ball to a spot or win a 50-50 ball when that’s the only chance of a conversion on 3rd down. Jalen Jordan and the two freshmen could really help in this area if they can become threats down the sideline.
Question 3: What is actually “new”?
In terms of offensive philosophy, John McNulty had planned to spread things out since the Knights lack the big, hulking Tight Ends of the past few years. Then Rutgers did secure the services and eligibility of a few tight ends, but injuries have put them back at McNulty’s former train of thought. Rutgers played mostly three receiver sets in 2018 other than in short yardage, but perhaps we see some four, or heaven forbid, five receiver sets in 2019. And with the increased emphasis on space, the key will be finding openings. This isn’t a bad thing considering the team could not make plays downfield even when facing a stacked box last year. All those plays where McNulty schemed Tight Ends open in the middle a decade ago, let’s see that but with faster players in 2019.
Personnel-wise, three new players joined the team. Unfortunately transfer Monterio Hunt was lost for the year with a knee injury already. Isaiah Washington is a tall, straight line, downfield receiver that Rutgers had in droves late in Greg Schiano’s tenure. He could play this year, but might need a little more time. Stanley King is the boom or bust prospect with elite size and speed. His camp hyped him up before his final high school year and he surely backed it up by leading the state in several statistical categories.
Most importantly, improved quarterback play from Art Sitkowski or any of the new faces is paramount.
Question 4: Best case, worst case, and most likely scenarios?
There is a chance this group goes through an almost inconceivable transformation. Since there are so many players in the group and the scheme will be more wide open, there is more than one path to this unexpected nirvana. The absolute best case is that Stanley King is somewhere between Andre Patton and Kenny Britt. Bo Melton gets opportunities all over the formation and is a Carroo-lite. Paul Woods is the Quron Pratt, very reliable. Isaiah Washington is the next Mark Harrison as a downfield threat. Tyler Hayek is Andrew Turzilli. Eddie Lewis is the quickest slot man since Eric Young. Daevon Robinson is what Tim Wright became in the NFL, not what he was at RU. Shameen Jones, Everett Wormley, Hunter Hayek, and Mo Jabbie are those interchangeable parts who defenses don’t study film of, but are catching balls all over the place on gameday. And of course, the quarterbacks can capitalize on all of this.
Somehow worse than the last two years. Never say never again.
Melton takes another few steps. Shameen Jones drops less balls. Eddie Lewis is a little better. Daevon Robinson is the team’s main target on routes where they want to throw the ball to a spot. A true freshman or redshirt freshman emerges late in the season to provide hope for the future.
Players listed on the current roster
#5 Paul Woods (6’1”, 173 lbs.), Redshirt Freshman
Woods looked great in the spring game. He had an innate chemistry with Cole Snyder that we haven’t seen the likes of on the banks since Gary Nova was connecting with Leonte Carroo. Paul doesn’t have great size, but is pretty strong in the air and seems to “get it.” There’s a chance he’s the team’s best receiver.
#6 Mohamed Jabbie (5’11”, 196 lbs.) Redshirt Junior
Jabbie is actual listed as one pound lighter than a year ago. A reliable blocker and special teams warrior who works on his hands possibly more than anyone else on the team, Mo was the starting slot receiver in the spring game and did a decent job. He has just four career catches, but will catch the ball if he is schemed open and the ball arrives on time.
#7 Hunter Hayek (5’9”, 184 lbs.) Junior
Hunter was the team’s leading returning receiver entering last year (eight catches, 62 yards), but battled through injuries in 2018. He managed to play in 11 games, but netted just three catches as a two-deep slot receiver. He is fast and has reliable hands, but Hunter wasn’t highly recruited because of his size.
#9 Tyler Hayek (6’3”, 202 lbs.) Redshirt Sophomore
At least six inches taller than his twin, Tyler was projected by some sources as a better safety prospect than receiver. He is a receiver at RU in the logjam of players from the 2017 recruiting class. Ideally the staff would find him a role as a deep threat.
#12 Jalen Jordan (6’5’, 213 lbs.) Redshirt Freshman
Jalen played at IMG Academy along with Art Sitkowski. The staff tried to get him some deep balls which never materialized, so they pulled him from the lineup to ensure he could qualify for a redshirt. He’s a tweener, more of a flexed tight end, but has the elite size that may take some time to grow into.
#14 Everett Wormley (6’0’, 197 lbs.) Junior
Wormley was deemed as “physically ready” in camp two years ago and played more in 2017 than 2018. He looks the part of a Big Ten player, but doesn’t get enough separation to make many receptions, catching five balls in his career for just 28 yards. He may be lost in the shuffle.
#15 Shameen Jones (6’1”, 187 lbs.) Redshirt Sophomore
Jones did not play as a true freshman, but was universally considered the second best wide receiver in spring practice in 2018. He was the starter virtually all season, but managed just 15 catches for 155 yards and a touchdown. It was a mix of everything at various times; drops, bad routes, lack of separation, and bad throws. He might be super close to breaking out if he can be just a little more reliable, but everyone is licking their chops to unseat him.
#18 Bo Melton (5’11”, 191 lbs.) Junior
Bo Melton arrived as the #3 prospect in New Jersey and had just four catches as a true freshman. He raised that number to 28 receptions a year ago, yet he was still considered a “bust” by some. If someone else can be considered the number one receiver allowing Melton to be used more selectively, Bo could still be an X-factor.
#21 Eddie Lewis (6’0”, 191 lbs.) Sophomore
After a post-graduate season, Eddie Lewis looked super quick, almost unguardable in the 2018 spring game and the fall was more of the same. His route running was better than expected and he was far and away the most successful Scarlet Knight at getting a step on his defender. If he avoids drops, he will probably be the team’s most effective receiver out of the gate.
#80 Monterio Hunt (6’1”, 195 lbs.) Junior
Hunt unfortunately was lost for the season with an ACL injury after arriving as a transfer possession receiver.
#84 Cole Murphy (6’1”, 199 lbs.) Redshirt Senior
Murphy isn’t likely to get any catches this year unless they come on gadget special teams plays. He’s a reliable holder who can run, pass, and catch the ball.
#85 Daevon Robinson (6’3”, 223 lbs.), Sophomore
Daevon is still getting the hype as the team’s lead receiver at this point after a strong spring. During his recruitment, scouts had him pegged anywhere from defensive end to wide receiver and everything in between. Rutgers needs him at wide receiver and once he came over from tight end full-time, he has been the leader of the pack.
#83 Isaiah Washington (6’3”, 198 lbs.),
Washington seemed like a steal coming out of Florida when he committed and that was before the Knights had King in the fold. The staff recognized they need taller receivers who can go up and get the ball which is what Washington brings to the table.
#88 Stanley King (6’4”, 190 lbs.)
Stanley is the closest thing to Kenny Britt that has arrived on campus since at least Andre Patton, possibly even Britt himself. King is tall, fast, and honed his aerial skills on the hardwood. The best chance for this passing game to skip a step is if he can win one on one battles and free up other players.
#13 Prince Taylor (5’10”, 193 lbs) RJr., #81 Rich McDonald (6’0”, 193 lbs) So., #82 Christian Dremel (5’10”, 178 lbs) Fr., #87 John Guaimano (6’1”, 198 lbs) Fr.,
Tremendous pass protection from Rutgers' offensive line, great throw from Artur Sitkowski and solid catch from Shameen Jones.— Brian Fonseca (@briannnnf) September 29, 2018
Rutgers leads Indiana 7-0 after a 10-play, 75-yard opening drive. pic.twitter.com/5eTsbvZgTr
Long term outlook: Average, with a chance to swing heavily in either direction. The only senior on the roster is Murphy who is really just the team’s holder at this point. So on one hand, the team is going into 2020 with the core of the same crew who has underperformed the last two years. On the other hand, if the large in number 2017 recruiting class can become just average players, one or two other guys as difference makers will move this group into a legitimate Big Ten corps. Most likely those would be Stanley King and Daevon Robinson, but there are many guys who could make the leap.
So as we have seen with other position groups, there is enough depth at the receiver position to field a competent Power Five offense. The biggest question is the fusion of the quarterbacks, offensive line, and receivers who have all let one another down. No matter who is in charge in 2020, they will have experienced players to utilize, with hopefully at least one emerging star.
NOTE: If I had a chance to have an off the record conversation with transfer quarterback McLane Carter over a beer (yes, he’s 21), I’d really be curious to hear how these receivers compare to what he had at Texas Tech.
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